Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Report Finds the Internet is Safe

Many readers of this blog are parents, we started out discussing the sex-ed curriculum in our county's schools, we are obviously interested in the sexual information that children are exposed to. In these days of fast-as-light communication technology kids have access to chatrooms and forums, web sites and instant messages, they text one another and send pictures around, it is very difficult to control the information that is made available to your kid.

Michael Castleman, writing at the Psychology Today blog, has a view of all this that you may find interesting.
Take one newly pervasive communications medium that makes some people apprehensive. Add concern about sexual exploitation of children that makes everyone apprehensive. Stir in a few highly publicized cases of pedophiles luring innocent young kids to horrible fates via email or Facebook. Season with echoes of Hansel and Gretel. And what comes out of the oven? Full-blown hysteria that every child with an Internet connection faces substantial risk from sexual predators.

The hysteria may be real. But the actual threat is negligible.

Last year, the attorneys general of 49 states created the Internet Safety Technical Task Force to investigate sexual solicitation of children by molesters who troll for targets using sites popular with kids, among them, MySpace and Facebook. The 278-page report concluded that there's no real problem.

The task force, led by Harvard researchers, looked at reams of scientific data dealing with online sexual predation and found that children and teens were rarely propositioned for sex by adults who made contact via the Internet. In the handful of cases that have been documented-and highly publicized-the researchers found that the victims, almost always older teenagers, were usually willing participants already at risk for exploitation because of family problems, substance abuse, or mental health issues.

The report concluded that MySpace and Facebook "do not appear to have increased minors' overall risk of sexual solicitation." The report said the biggest risk to kids using social networks was bullying by other kids. Sexual Predators: NOT an Internet Threat to Kids

It is impossible for us to imagine what life is like for our children, who have grown up with digital technology and take it for granted. I was telling my kids the other day about the old cell phones we had when I was a kid, they were so big your shoulder would get tired from carrying it around. And the video games we had were so slow!

Even some of our readers might not be able to imagine the pre-Pong world.

In this new reality, people can communicate with one another anywhere at any time, they have the sense that their communications are private, text and images can be forwarded without limit, it is really a different kind of nest that they live in, the environment has an ambience that is totally different from what older adults experienced. And there are threats in that, of course, creepy people can take advantage of the curtain of anonymity that conceals participants in these huge communication structures, and can take advantage of the norms of trust that form.

We can easily imagine bad horrible things happening. But according to this study, bad things don't happen nearly as often as we think they do.

Here's a provocative point...
Not all the participating attorneys general agreed with the report's conclusions. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal charged that "thousands" of convicted sex offenders are members of social networking sites.

That may well be true, but most "convicted sex offenders" are not predators who molest children. In most states. "sex crimes" include exhibitionism, voyeurism, public urination, transvestism, even ownership of a vibrator. In addition, in some states 18-year-old men have been convicted of statutory rape, a sex crime, for having sex with their fully consenting 17-year-old girlfriends.

It is interesting to note how willing we are to imagine that the Internet is dangerous, and how reluctant we are to accept that kids today know how to handle it, and that it is a relatively safe environment. You almost feel like you're doing something wrong, just saying it.
Meanwhile, in the small number of cases where child molesters have connected with children online, most of the encounters have followed a predictable pattern: online contact, leading to telephone contact, ultimately leading to face-to-face meetings. But notice that those who are up in arms about the supposed hazards of social networking sites seem unconcerned about the key role that the telephone plays in the sexual exploitation of children. Why is that?

I think it's because the telephone is an old technology fully integrated into our culture. The Internet is still new, and kids use it more than adults, which makes many adults nervous that something nefarious must be going on. But according to the attorneys general report, next to nothing is.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aug 26th, 2009 | Statement from President Barack Obama on the death Tuesday of Sen. Edward Kennedy:

Michelle and I were heartbroken to learn this morning of the death of our dear friend, Senator Ted Kennedy.

For five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well-being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts.

I valued his wise counsel in the Senate, where, regardless of the swirl of events, he always had time for a new colleague. I cherished his confidence and momentous support in my race for the presidency. And even as he waged a valiant struggle with a mortal illness, I've profited as president from his encouragement and wisdom.

An important chapter in our history has come to an end. Our country has lost a great leader, who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the greatest United States Senator of our time.

And the Kennedy family has lost their patriarch, a tower of strength and support through good times and bad.

Our hearts and prayers go out to them today -- to his wonderful wife, Vicki, his children Ted Jr., Patrick and Kara, his grandchildren and his extended family.

August 26, 2009 7:12 AM  

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